"Joy and pleasure are as real as pain and sorrow and one must learn what they have to teach. . . ." -- Sean Russell, from Gatherer of Clouds

"If you're not having fun, you're not doing it right." -- Helyn D. Goldenberg

"I love you and I'm not afraid." -- Evanescence, "My Last Breath"

“If I hear ‘not allowed’ much oftener,” said Sam, “I’m going to get angry.” -- J.R.R. Tolkien, from Lord of the Rings

Monday, March 31, 2008

Update on "Closeted by the Press"

A follow-up on this story ("Closeted by the Press"). From Deborah Howell of WaPo:

The Post was right to be cautious, but there was enough evidence -- particularly of Rogers's feelings about "don't ask, don't tell" -- to warrant quoting his friends and adding that dimension to the story of his life. The story would have been richer for it.

And there are many reasons to include the information on Rogers' sexual orientation:

Sharon Alexander, director of legislative affairs for the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, was a friend of Rogers and lobbies for the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell." She ultimately concluded that he would have wanted "that part of his story to be told to help move the issue of repeal forward."

Kevin Naff, editor of the Blade, said in an e-mail, "It's a double standard to report basic facts about straight subjects like marital status, while actively suppressing similar information about gay subjects. It was clear that Maj. Rogers led as openly gay a life as was possible, given his military service. He worked for a gay rights organization, had gay friends and patronized D.C.-area gay clubs. It's unfortunate The Post . . . chose not to present a full picture of this brave man's life."

The man was an activist, for crying out loud.

Credit to Howell -- maybe we can hope that someone's attitudes will change when they realize that they're the ones contributing to the idea that being gay is shameful.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

This Is Not About Jeremiah Wright

Speaking as a white man who was raised in a lily-white town (our concession to diversity was the two Jewish families in town), and having lived through the civil rights movement of the '60s and '70s, I'm thinking that Obaman's speech on race in America has much more importance than simply defusing the (largely fake) outrage over anything his pastor said. Add in these comments from Condoleeza Rice:

"Black Americans were a founding population," she said. "Africans and Europeans came here and founded this country together — Europeans by choice and Africans in chains. That's not a very pretty reality of our founding."

As a result, Miss Rice told editors and reporters at The Washington Times, "descendants of slaves did not get much of a head start, and I think you continue to see some of the effects of that."

"That particular birth defect makes it hard for us to confront it, hard for us to talk about it, and hard for us to realize that it has continuing relevance for who we are today," she said.

It's not like no one has ever said anything like this before, but Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Louis Farrakhan -- even, to a certain extent, Martin Luther King, Jr. -- all phrased it in the rhetoric of the Black Liberation movement, which whites simply didn't understand. It was angry, it was accusing, it was unpleasant, and the immediate reaction was not to hear the meaning. That's why so many were so ready to label Jeremiah Wright's words as "inflammatory" -- by the standards of the mainstream culture -- white middle-class culture -- they were. By the standards of black culture, they're not, really. They are strong, forceful words from a culture that values verbal ability very highly.

What Obama and now Rice have done has been to phrase these ideas and these feelings in words the rest of us -- the mainstream -- can understand, and deliver them in a way that will not allow us to reject their meaning immediately. We are finally, in the nicest way possible, being forced to actually listen.

(Footnote: For a comment on the reaction from the right -- and not necessarily the foamy-mouth right -- see this from Callimachus at Done With Mirrors.

Just in Case You Had Any Doubts

Dick Cheney's an asshole.

"The president carries the biggest burden, obviously," Cheney said. "He's the one who has to make the decision to commit young Americans, but we are fortunate to have a group of men and women, the all-volunteer force, who voluntarily put on the uniform and go in harm's way for the rest of us."

The president's family is being taken care of. And the president will have a nice cushy pension when he's discharged. And the president's medical needs will be paid for.

Joe Galloway has more to say.

Well, It Took Long Enough, Didn't It?

Evangelicals are finally waking up:

"Lots of people feel that the evangelical label has been taken captive by a very narrow political program," said the Rev. Rich Nathan, senior pastor at The Vineyard Church of Columbus, which is hosting the revival. "Folks don't feel that that represents them. Many of the so-called evangelical leaders are saying, we didn't elect these people, they don't represent us. How did they become our spokespeople? How did this narrow agenda become our agenda?"

The "culture war" just took a new turn:

Wallis' detractors say he is trying to steer religious conservatives to the Democratic Party - launching the effort in Columbus, the capital of a state that swung the presidency to George Bush in 2004 by a just 2 percent margin. Bush's Ohio victory was attributed largely to turnout among religious conservatives mobilized by a proposed gay marriage ban that appeared on that year's ballot.

"I think this is part of a concerted effort to try to reach out to the values voters and take them away from the pro-life candidates," said Denise Mackura, executive director of the Chicago-based Thomas More Society public interest law firm, which opposes abortion. "It's an effort to say ... go ahead and vote for Barack or whoever because there are these other issues, to convince people not to base their vote on the right-to-life issue."

Because the Thomas More Society is a one-trick pony -- if people aren't voting for forced birth, there goes their funding.

You'll remember that the Dobson Gang called for the resignation of a member of the American Evangelical Association for recommending that evangelicals focus more effort on the environment and social justice. They didn't want to bleed resources away from the fight against "the hommoseksual agenda." After all, it's much easier to dehumanize gays than it is poor children.

Maybe I Just Don't Get It

I periodically dip into The Bilerico Project and find myself wondering why it's so highly regarded among gay blogs. It strikes me as pretty much the left-wing version of GayPatriot: predictable, knee-jerk, and not much depth. (I could be wrong, and there's really nothing wrong about being all of the above, but I'm looking for the unexpected, thoughtful, and substantial. It's out there.*)

Take this post for example:

So I've tried to shy away from posting about the election (except for my one post about Obama's gay crush on John Edwards). But this article about Obama's foreign policy goals had me scratching my head. (If I had balls, I'd scratch those instead.)

Sen. Barack Obama said Friday he would return the country to the more "traditional" foreign policy efforts of past presidents, such as George H.W. Bush, John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan.

At a town hall event at a local high school gymnasium, Obama praised George H.W. Bush - father of the president - for the way he handled the Persian Gulf War: with a large coalition and carefully defined objectives.

Is Obama running to be the GOP candidate, or what?

If you're scratching your head (and why would you scratch your balls over something like this?), I'm right there with you. It may just be that you're hampered in accepting something like this if you know anything about history and/or our foreign policy over the past fifty years -- in basic terms, we created a "pax Americana" that ran echoed the pax Britannica that held throughout the nineteenth century and pretty much up to WWII. To put it in the words of Teddy Roosevelt, "Speak softly and carry a big stick." And since WWII, we've had the biggest stick on the block, so we didn't have to use it. We also made good use of international cooperation. Dubyah has blown that, and getting back to the status quo ante is a laudable goal -- after all, it worked. I'm not sure it's possible, since our standing in the world is so badly eroded -- it's the kind of stance that relies on moral authority. I have a sneaking suspicion that there's going to be a period of relative chaos until the next world policeman rises, whether that's a united Europe or China, or some nation that's not even on the horizon yet, because once you've lost that moral authority, it's almost impossible to get it back.

At any rate, that poster just doesn't seem to get it. (The commenters seem to be a lot more on the ball -- and better informed.)

* See "Friday Gay Blogging, Sunday Edition," below.

Friday Gay Blogging, Sunday Edition

This post by Eric Leven is the kind of thing I'd like to see more of.

Two years ago I made a somewhat jarring, somewhat controversial (although I had no intention of it being so) advertisement that deals with second guessing the choices of your sex life when you find yourself at the STD/HIV clinic awaiting the results of your next test. The ad was both well-received as well as criticized for its level of "fear campaigning."

In the writing, producing and directing of the ad I never once sat down and said to myself, "Ok. How can I scare people?!" Never the case. Not once. I took an experience as a modern, sexually active, sexually positive gay male and translated it to film with the hopes of encouraging others to slow down, think before they act and take their sex lives seriously and responsibly.

On that note, check out this post at Joe.My.God about the sharp increase in new HIV infections. As Joe points out, this is in part due to more complete reporting, but. . . .

Keeping in mind that this spike is fueled in part by better reporting, the news is still sobering, to say the least. I probably should rattle off the "get tested, play safe" mantra, but maybe it's more useful to remind you that by far the most infectious person is the freshly-seroconverted guy who truly believes he is negative.

It doesn't matter how often or how recently you've been tested. Even with "rapid testing" the average time between infection and detectable antibodies is still 25 days. If you are regularly sexually active and somebody asks if you are HIV+, there are only two possible answers: "Yes" and "I don't know." Those guys that trumpet the date of their negative test in their hook-up profiles must believe in time travel. Treat every "negative" partner as if he were just infected yesterday. Because if he passes the virus to you, he probably was.

I haven't written much about HIV, despite the fact that it's still with us and still very much a part of our lives. That's mostly because I don't have anything new to say about it, except to point out that, even though it's a treatable disease and can now be handled like any othre chronic illness, it's still a chronic illness that's going to affect your life in fundamental ways, starting with the fact that you're going to be on meds for the rest of your life. That's something I personally detest. I'm on medication for hypertension and cholesterol right now, and my great goal is to revise my habits so that I'm off those damn things asap. They're not fun (I'm prone to side effects anyway, and these are choice), and I hate the idea that my continued good health is dependent on popping pills.

And then I think what it would be like if I really had to take the pills to avoid lingering illness and an ugly death. I've already lost too many friends. I don't want to be the next one.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Right Way, and the Wal-Mart Way

If you haven't seen this story yet you've been hiding under a rock. I doubt that I even have to comment on it -- if you spend any time here at all, you know my reaction to this kind of thing. (And please note that it's not only Wal-Mart, but Wal-Mart's insurance company -- two bastards for the price of one.)

If you want the full measure of the horror here, read the WSJ article.

"We wanted her to have a decent quality of life, and we still had the money," he says. He hoped he could also use it to pay the roughly $130,000 in bills for Mrs. Shank's rehabilitation and a return hospital visit after her coverage expired.

But in August 2005, Wal-Mart re-emerged with a lawsuit against the Shanks demanding repayment for $469,216 in medical costs out of their settlement. It charged that the Shanks had violated the terms of the health plan by not reimbursing it. The company also demanded payment of legal fees and interest for the cost of suing the Shanks for the money.

Mr. Graham, the Shanks' attorney, says he approached Wal-Mart's attorneys about negotiating a compromise, but was told the health plan wanted to proceed with the lawsuit. "We're not contending that Wal-Mart isn't entitled to a payment. We're saying they're entitled to one based on equity," he says. Since Mrs. Shank wasn't fully compensated for her damages in the first place, he argues, Wal-Mart should also expect only partial reimbursement.

Wal-Mart got the whole thing, another benefit of the Republicans' success at packing the courts.

This is choice:

Administrators of employer-financed health plans "have an obligation to participants to be impartial," the Wal-Mart spokeswoman says. "Virtually all health plans include subrogation provisions as a way to control health plan costs."

That's the excuse they use to cancel coverage when someone actually needs it.

I like John Cole's comment:

I am actually on some e-mail list, probably a remnant from the Red State days, where some Wal-Mart flack sends me spam telling me all the good Wal-Mart does. They probably wouldn’t need to spend so much time and money on PR if they would stop being such total assholes in cases like this. But then again, money is involved. And if there is a choice between making a buck and doing the right thing, we know where Wal-Mart is gonna end up on that side of the equation.

The insurance business is the second biggest legal scam in the country, after military contracts. And Wal-Mart has never been known for its "people first" philosophy. Just keep repeating the Reagan mantra: "Greed is good, greed is good, greed is good. . . ."

Friday Gay Blogging, Saturday Edition

OK -- finally getting caught up with myself. Now for the world at large.

More on Marriage

Box Turtle Bulletin, which has my vote for one of the most reasonable gay blogs on the 'Net (although sometimes a little too reasonable) has managed to begin a dialogue between Glenn Stanton of Focus on the Family, and at least one of the anthropologists who took exception to his recent article on marriage. First, a critique by Patrick M. Chapman. Chapman does find some positives in Stanton's "report":

As indicated in the title, Stanton’s report compares and contrasts the anthropological understanding of marriage with definitions provided by various same-sex political advocates, apparently to undermine the case for same-sex marriage. I find the report significant for several, presumably unintended, reasons:

* The appeal to anthropologists as the authority in understanding marriage;

* The appreciation that marriage is primarily a social and economic institution, not a religious one;

* The acknowledgment that same-sex marriage is traditional;

* The recognition that Focus on the Family’s “one biological man with one biological woman” definition of marriage is flawed;

* The admission that gay males are capable of stable, long-term relationships.

I do want to point out something about Chapman's list that I think underlies the whole discussion to date, which is that there is a certain naivete involved in thinking that there will be an honest dialogue. Remember that Stanton works for Focus on the Family, one of the premier anti-gay groups in the country, which specializes in propaganda pieces that misrepresent and/or fabricate "scientific studies" in order to demonize gay people. Given that basic fact, I think anything that comes out of that organization or any statement by any of its representatives must be looked at with a high degree of scepticism.

In fact, we can see the kind of debater's tricks that are a staple of FoF's utterances in Stanton's response. And Stanton doesn't waste much time:

Additionally, when I was doing research in 2003 for my book, Marriage on Trial (w/ Dr. Bill Maier), I was interested to see how anthropologists understood marriage and parenting across cultures in light of the two streams of humanity: male and female. I took to reading the works of leading anthropologists on the topic and was profoundly struck by what I didn’t find. I expected to find explanations of various cultures that confounded and challenged the binary male/female dyad. I did not find this.

What I found was a relentless explanation of marriage and family consisting of male and female as the core of new families. It did not find observations and explanations of multiple genders, nor did I find broad discussions of different forms of marriage that did not include both male and female.

So, from the very beginning, Stanton has developed a self-limiting thesis. I find it quite surprising that he ran across no references to same-sex marriages, which are known to have occurred. I am not an anthropologist, merely an educated layman, but I am aware of the work of Stephen O. Murray and John Boswell, both of whom have written on same-sex marriage, Murray in Africa and other non-Western cultures, Boswell in early Europe. (I realize that Boswell's works have been hugely controversial, damned on every ground from methodology to his lack of "understanding" of various languages. The point remains that he documented his statements pretty thoroughly, and his conclusions were not completely unreasonable.) Andrew Sullivan published an anthology, Same-Sex Marriage: Pro and Con a number of years ago that included writings from, among others, anthropologists, and Ruth Vanita's Love Rite: Same-Sex Marriage in India and the West is currently available from Amazon. There is also the North American phenomenon of the berdache, a French term that encompassed an institution found among many Indian tribes under many different names, all of which describe a man (usually) who lived as a woman, adopting woman's dress, doing traditionally women's work, and often marrying a man -- who, by the way, was held in very high esteem as the husband of a person of significant spiritual importance to the group. This has been studied extensively, including at least one book-length study published, I believe, in the 1980s. And somehow Stanton managed to find none of this. I'd really like to know where he looked. (I don't claim to be very sophisticated with googling -- Google and I quite often have very different ideas of what constitutes a "key word." I'm sure someone with more savvy in that area could come up with a goldmine of sources.)

Stanton also notes that David Blankenhorn was influential on his paper. I've read some of Blankenhorn's so-called "arguments" against same-sex marriage and was not impressed by his premises, his reasoning, or his conclusions.

The "male/female dyad" seems to be the entire substance, if we can call it that, of Stanton's response in this first section. It strikes me as relying on habits of speech to prove a substantive point. Not quite going to make it.

Stanton then goes on to cast doubt on the American Anthropological Association's 2004 statement in support of same-sex marriage because it was not "academically motivated." This is total sophistry: the statement came in response to the push for anti-marriage amendments in a number of states -- a political move by FoF and allied organizations, which funneled millions of dollars into those campaigns. There's little reason for the AAA to make a statement about something that is not controversial, and every reason to make such a statement when distortions and fabrications are being expounded on scientific issues.

Stanton then, after writing an article that starts off crowing that "anthropologists support traditional marriage" -- a demonstrable untruth that Stanton now disowns -- tries to diminish the authority of anthropologists to address the issue because Chapman has pointed out that he cited that authority. So you see what I mean by debater's tricks? Dodging and weaving for fun and profit.

Stanton then goes on to deal with "miscellany." Frankly, his rejoinders to Chapman's comments are so lacking that it's hardly worth enumerating them. On the continued harping on the fact that most discussions of marriage rely on the "male/female dyad," even among those who have defined marriage in non-gender related terms, Stanton is still basing his argument on habits of speech, not substance. He notes once again that there is not and never has been, based on his research, any "true" same-sex marriage in any culture -- again, demonstrably untrue. (Vide Murray, et al. cited above, and watch for very slippery and constantly changing definitions of "true marriage.") And under the heading "Are Mothers and Fathers Merely Optional?" Stanton focuses on fatherless families. He doesn't seem to want to admit that every study that has been done comparing children raised in homes headed by same-sex and opposite-sex couples shows no difference in development or adjustment, except some indications that lesbians are best at parenting. He's going back to the old trick of taking studies comparing children from single-parent and dual-parent households as evidence that "children do better with a mother and father," which those studies don't address.

To paraphrase Stanton's opening comment:

Honest dialogue on same-sex marriage: priceless

Stanton's response to Chapman: garbage.

Closeted by the Press

I found this story both at Andrew Sullivan and Queerty:

The Washington Post, National Public Radio and the Gainesville Sun, the local newspaper in his hometown of Hampton, Fla., made no mention of his sexual orientation or his involvement with a group that works to overturn “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Lynn Medford, Metro editor for the Post, said the newspaper debated whether or not to disclose Rogers’ sexual orientation and ultimately decided not to include such information as a matter of ethics. Rogers to some degree “kept his orientation private” and outing him after his death would “take a decision out of his hands,” she said.

First off, Rogers kept his orientation private only to the degree that would keep him in the service. Here's something a little more honest, from the Washington Blade:

Tony Smith, a friend of Rogers’, described him as “very positive” and “very outgoing.” Smith and Rogers worked together in the D.C. chapter of American Veterans for Equal Rights, a group that works to change military policy toward gays. Rogers was out to friends in the Washington area, but “had to obviously be careful [about being out] to too many people because he was active duty military,” Smith said.

This, I think, is a little closer to the mark. Quoting Deborah Howell, WaPo ombudsman:

“They just felt it was a matter of privacy and they neither knew his wishes nor felt comfortable with [discussing his sexual orientation],” she said.

Can I suggest that maybe the operative factor here is editorial discomfort (being, as they are, all such wild-eyed liberals) rather than any real concerns about a dead man's privacy?

This sort of thing just perpetuates the idea that there's something wrong with being gay.

The Non-Apology Shuffle

Peter Sprigg, of the Family Research Council, is doing a fast two-step. First, last week's bon mot:

I would much prefer to export homosexuals from the United States than to import them into the United States because we believe homosexuality is destructive to society.

I'm sure that in the world of the fringe right, that counts as wit. Apparently, the heat was a little much. Suddenly Sprigg is all apologetic:

In response to a question regarding bi-national same-sex couples who are separated by an international border, I used language that trivialized the seriousness of the issue and did not communicate respect for the essential dignity of every human being as a person created in the image of God. I apologize for speaking in a way that did not reflect the standards which the Family Research Council and I embrace.

Frankly, I think his first comments are a perfect reflection of the FRC's standards. After all, they're still relying on Paul Cameron's "research." In fact, if I recall correctly, the SPLC has designated them as a hate group.

Commenter Christopher brings up this point:

My problem with this “apology” is that he seems to merely apologize for his choice of words, rather than for what his words actually *mean*.

Saying you believe that homosexuals “should be exported” out of the US doesn’t merely “trivialize the seriousness of an issue,” but says quite clearly that you believe it would be best if an entire people group were forcibly removed from American society. Of course it’s disrespectful, but it also communicates a policy intent that borders on genocide.

The disrespect was addressed, but not the underlying policy intent of his statement. Does he repudiate that? I can’t really tell.

I can tell -- of course not. We live in the age of the non-apology: "I'm sorry some people were offended," which translates as "F*** you, wimp."

Let's talk a little bit about respect for the essential dignity of every human being. In our case, that starts by calling us "gay," not "homosexual." To bore you with the basics -- and I've pointed this out to those who are sympathetic to gays and their rights, as well as those who are not -- to call us "homosexuals" is to reduce us to a behavior. There's no respect for our dignity there at all. Given that this is the official term used by the right-wing anti-gay propagandists, I think you can see just how much they respect our humanity. Don't you feel special, just knowing that?

So, no, Sprigg's apology has no real substance to it. He quite obviously has no respect for us as people -- our only value to him and his organization is as a way to raise money.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Oops! It's Friday!

I do have a story in the works for Friday Gay Blogging, but it's going to take some serious thought and I'm running behind schedule.

Chalk it up to the fact that I'm never really sure what day of the week it is.

Maybe later today, maybe tomorrow. Sorry about that.

When the Chickens Comes Home to Roost

Former Alabama governor Don Siegelman has been released on bail pending appeal of his somewhat questionable conviction on corruption charges.

A federal appeals court on Thursday ordered Siegelman released pending the appeal of his corruption case, just hours after the House Judiciary Committee announced that it wants to hear his views when it probes claims of selective prosecution by the Justice Department.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in its ruling Thursday, said the former governor had raised "substantial questions of fact and law" in challenging his conviction.

Considering that there are allegations that a key witness was lying and that the prosecutors knew it, I would say yes, there are substantial questions regarding this whole thing.

It appears that the Justice Department is playing CYA. This is from yesterday:

The House Judiciary Committee asked the Justice Department on Thursday to allow imprisoned former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman to testify before Congress about possible political influence over his prosecution.

Attorney General Michael Mukasey indicated that he would not support the request for a temporary release but said that officials might arrange for Siegelman's testimony in some other way.

Oh, man -- can you say "slime bag"? Fortunately, the courts took the decision out of Mukasey's hands.

(Footnote: This is choice:

"I consider it one of my paramount responsibilities to ensure that the department continues to handle its public corruption investigations and prosecutions in a consistent, nonpartisan and appropriate manner," Mukasey said. "Just as important, though, I also consider it my duty to ensure that the department continues to pursue public corruption wherever we find it."

Permit me to be a bit sceptical. And, it appears that Digby agrees.)

It will be interesting to see, first, how Siegelman fares on appeal, and second, how this affects any possible prosecution of Eliot Spitzer.


This post from hilzoy is the most complete I've seen on this story. At this point, all I can call it is another example of the Bush administration's general incompetence, but hilzoy notes a point from Matt Yglesias that's worth considering:

“A lot of us are asking the question,” said a senior State Department official. “How did this guy get all this business?”"

That's the question I want answered as well. Though Matt Yglesias surely has an important part of the answer: "Just one more example of how dangerous it is to have the government led by people determined to prove that government is corrupt and incompetent."

I have to admit, that comment is attractive to the conspiracy-thinker part of me, but it misses one obvious point: if the goal is to prove that government is corrupt and incompetent, why the push to put the whole thing in the hands of the most corrupt and incompetent part of it? Aren't they undercutting their own lust for power? They can't be that incompetent.

Can they?

What Is This About Bloomberg?

Via Andrew Sullivan, this piece from Marc Ambinder. (I start to wonder if Sullivan reads anything but the Atlantic):

The First Read gang is all a-buzz at the Obama-Needs-A-Jew-On-The-Ticket-Angle, but I think the best way to look at an Obama-Bloomberg ticket is by noticing their complimentary traits. Obama isn't much of an administrator or a details guy by his own admission, while Bloomberg is so concerned about Your Health and Welfare that he studies intently the ins and outs of congestion pricing and trans-fats. He's a prime minister-type -- although he brings an outsider's sense of efficiency to the bureaucracy. Let Obama be the vision guy; Bloomberg could be the brass-tacks administrator.

This is all based on a rather thin "thank you" from a speech Obama gave in New York. Gee, praise for the mayor of the city in which you are speaking. How significant!

Onoe of Ambinders commenters links to this post from last December by Glenn Greenwald:

Following along in David Broder's excited footsteps, Sam Roberts in The New York Times reports that Michael Bloomberg "is growing increasingly enchanted with the idea of an independent presidential bid, and his aides are aggressively laying the groundwork for him to run." And a handful of retired, mediocre politicians with no following are issuing self-absorbed, thug-like demands, complete with deadlines.

Maybe it's just that Ambinder sees hiimself as Broder Lite.

As for the whole "post-partisan" thing: Obama all by himself is as far as we need to go on that. The rest of this is another artifact of the Village Dream Machine, and we've seen how well that all goes over with real voters. The fact that Ambinder is coming out with this kind of fantasy (and that Sullivan is jumping on the bandwagon) is to me just an indication that: 1) they are terminally embarrassed by what their party has become, to the extent that they're trying to pretend that they're not Republicans, and 2) they can't quite call themselves Democrats because they have no idea what the Democractic party represents. (Let's face it, Sullivan hasn't yet twigged to the idea that there's no difference between conservative and liberal fiscal policies except in how the money is spent. Oh, and the Democrats prefer to pay as we go.)

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Creek Running North

Since I'm fed up with politics and moving into the real world, it seems, let me take this opportunity to recommend that you visit Chris Clarke's site, Creek Running North.

It's a great place to level off.

'Possum Note

I saw the resident 'possum this morning for the first time in months. He (she?) was trundling through the yard with a big wad of dead leaves held in his tail. I suspect there's nest-building going on, but I can't figure out why. 'Possums don't need nests for their young -- they have these handy pouches that serve until the little ones are big enough to hang on to mom's back. I would expect nest construction to be a fall activity, what with needing shelter from the cold and snow.

Another of life's little mysteries.

(Random thought: we think of evolution backwards. That is to say, when we say an organism has adapted to an evironment, that exactly 180 from what actually happened. Any population -- and evolution is a matter of populations, not individuals -- has a range of potentials. When an environmental niche arises, some individual or group of individuals in that population is most likely going to be able to take advantage of it, so the adapation actually happened before it was necessary. That's quite a different thing.

Chalk it up to our indoctrination into linear, cause-and-effect thinking, which leads to mistakes like think that we are the pinnacle of evolution: that's where the idea of "common ancestors" comes into play. Every organism alive today is just as highly evolved as we are. It's just that none of the others evolved in quite the way we did, so you can't really think of chimpanzees as not-quite-people. They are chimpanzees.)

Disney the Treehugger

Via Andrew Sullivan, this article at Treehugger:

It turns out that Snow White was a role model for saving the forest and Walt Disney was a secret environmentalist, inserting subliminal messages into his cartoons. Who knew? According to a recent book by two Cambridge academics, all those years of watching Jungle Book, the Little Mermaid and Bambi (re-runs on that one) have made generations of children more sympathetic to the natural world. Great! Bambi, from 1942, was noted as being particularly influential--the authors think that many of the first green activists may have learned respect for nature by watching it every Saturday afternoon at the movies.

I left a comment to the effect that it makes much more sense (to me, at least) to figure that Disney was building on a long-running thread in American thought that comes ultimately from Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the philsophes of the Enlightenment. It's a highly romanticized vision of the wilderness, evident in the work of the Hudson River School and the later Western landscapists (Bierstadt, for example), and the early photographers of the American West (Timothy O'Sullivan comes to mind) -- in fact, that's a thread that runs straight through to Ansel Adams in the twentieth century.

This is not to discount the alternate, Protestant Christian vision of the wilderness as the wellspring of sin -- America has always been a little schizophrenic that way: the Puritans versus Daniel Boone. But it's obvious that Disney was building on the Eden/Noble Savage tradition.

If Bambi inspired baby environmentalists, I suspect it's because it tied into a major strand in the American psyche, not that Disney had the power to sway multitudes.

If It Don't Work, Fund It

Abstinence-only programs don't work. However, that's not going to stop the Dobson Gang from alerting the troops: Someone in Congress has finally gotten fed up with funneling money to religious-based abstinence-only programs, which as far as I'm concerned is just another example of conservative pork. (I'm waiting for them the find the cojones to cut the Office of Faith-Based Handouts.)

The Dobson Gang, of course, is about to have a collective cow:

Valerie Huber, executive director of the National Abstinence Education Association, said it is important to look at the growing body of research showing abstinence education as the only curriculum that successfully addresses teen pregnancies, STIs and the emotional consequences of teen sex.

“Abstinence education is so much more than a ‘Just Say No' approach,” she said. “It is time that society puts public health in front of ideological agendas and recognizes that abstinence education is the best health message for America's youth."

The problem is, that's not true. From ABC:

Stoking the fire, a study published in the April edition of the Journal of Adolescent Health found that those who received comprehensive sex education were 50 percent less likely to become pregnant than those who received abstinence-only education. The study also found that those who received comprehensive sex education were 60 percent less likely to become pregnant than those who received no sex education at all.

Both sides are making hay out of the recent CDC that shows that one in four teenage girls has an STD. The sex-as-evil crowd claims that the study shows that more abstinence-only programs are the only answer. I have one question: we've been pushing abstinence-only for years now, and the STD rate among teenagers has gone up. How is more going to help?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Snake Oil, Without Comment

One of the things that annoys me the most about Andrew Sullivan is his habit of doing posts like this one. Please note that Sullivan makes no comment -- by which most people would assume that he has no criticism, which translates in most people's minds as approval. I think he's just waiting to see the reaction before he takes a position.

This should be a no-brainer: Dobson is a reflexive liar, so we know, based on his comments, that Obama is not the most liberal senator, and will not be the most liberal president in history. If Dobson says the National Journal is non-partisan and highly respected, we know it's a radical right-wing propaganda organ. If he says that Focus Action will be attempting to uncover the real Obama, we know that they'll be pushing whatever made-up scandals they think will work.

And of course, it wouldn't be Dobson speaking without a defense of the family somewhere in there. It's almost at the point where he uses it like a "thank you and good night."

Now, why can't Sullivan point this out?

Footnote: It's relevant to a lot of what I post here, but this post by John Dolan at alternet sort of gives my philosophy of dealing with the radical right fringe in a nutshell: don't be afraid to call them on the bullshit. And ridicule them while you're doing it.


In case you don't believe me, read this post by Steve Benen at Carpetbagger:

As Media Matters for America has repeatedly documented, among the votes Obama took that purportedly earned him the Journal’s “most liberal senator” label were those to implement the 9-11 Commission’s homeland security recommendations, provide more children with health insurance, expand federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research, and maintain a federal minimum wage.

Obama himself criticized the Journal’s methodology by noting that it considered “liberal” his vote for “an office of public integrity that stood outside of the Senate, and outside of Congress, to make sure that you’ve got an impartial eye on ethics problems inside of Congress.”

Media Matters has also previously noted that the Journal admitted to having used flawed methodology in the publication’s previous rating of then-Democratic presidential front-runner Sen. John Kerry (MA) as the “most liberal senator” in 2003.

This really isn’t complicated. National Journal argues that some senators weren’t given scores if they missed too many votes. Obama missed a full third of the 99 votes used for the ratings, but that wasn’t enough to disqualify him from the rankings. Why not? Why not? Because National Journal’s arbitrary standards, known only to the publication’s editors, say so.

This is another one of Dobson's "reliable, respected sources." Respected by who? Right-wing snake oil salesmen.

Deceit and the Creationists

Hmm -- seems to go together, doesn't it. I've been casually following PZ Myers' comments on the film Expelled, a creationist propaganda piece for which he was interviewed under false pretenses. If you're familiar with Myers, you know he's a biologist and a vocal atheist. The shenanigans of the producers of the film have been quite entertaining, but ultimately seriously dangerous. Tristero points out some of the issues in the controversy at Hullabaloo. The post takes off from this piece by Matt Nisbet, which is thoroughly off-base, although well-meaning.

The simplistic and unscientific claim that more knowledge leads to less religion might be the particular delusion of Dawkins, Myers, and many others, but it is by no means the official position of science, though they often implicitly claim to speak for science. Nor does it stand up to mounds of empirical evidence about the complex relationship between science literacy and public perceptions.

Excuse me? First off, as tristero points out, the film doesn't give raw footage of Myers and Dawkins -- this has been edited. Second, neither man claims to speak for science, and what entity do we go to for the "official" position of science? I hadn't realized there was such a thing. Tristero:

First of all, Nisbet is not quite accurate here. If you actually watch the clip and suffer through the insufferably bad music, you will find fairly innocuous statements by Dawkins and PZ (the "fairy tales" stuff is a bit gratuitous, but hardly offensive compared to what McCain bff Pastor Hagee has said about Catholics). In fact, the Dawkins/Myers material is actually pretty thin and uncontroversial. Hence the unbearable, ominous music and more importantly, the addition of a third interviewee - not Dawkins or Myers - who declares religion "evil" and who serves as the button for the segment.

Secondly, NIsbet fails to realize that Dawkins and PZ didn't create the takeaway message. The producers of the film did, by deliberately misleading them about the nature of the film in the first place, asking questions that provoked certain hoped-for answers, and most critically, editing the film in such a way as to turbo-charge the message. When you're dealing with dishonest filmmakers - Matt, they lied about the nature of the film in order to snag face time with PZ and Dawkins - then no matter who they had "representing" science - including Nisbet himself - they would be slathered with bad music and edited to look like the Devil Incarnate.

It goes back to my recurring message, which tristero restates: dialogue is not possible with people who refuse to acknowledge that there is any legitimate opinion but their own and who do not include the word "compromise" in their vocabulary.

The Trouble With Conservatism

Barbara O'Brien has a nice, clear explication:

The problem with conservatism is that, when taken to extremes and logical outcomes, it turns into a nasty, brutish thing that destroys everything it touches. And the problem with the Republican Party is that, in the 1970s, it was infiltrated and taken over by hard-core ideologues who were determined to take the GOP and the rest of the country to those extremes and logical outcomes.

And once the extremists had complete control of all branches of government, with no effective counterweights, they proceeded to destroy everything they touched.

You can argue — hell, I’ve argued — that any ideology, taken to extremes, will implode and self-destruct. Ideology is a bit like medicine; a bigger dose is not necessarily a better dose. One pill every four hours might cure you, but four pills every one hour might kill you.

I really have nothing to add, save to observe that my own political philosophy is somewhat like Eliza crossing the ice: it's a constant dance from there to there as issues arise and need to be addressed, moderated by my own tendency to err on the side of compassion. I take care of people (and critters, too, but the focus here is on people). It's just something I do. I think government should do the same thing, but avoid smother love, which is why I have distinct reservations about liberal "solutions": they meet half the problem.

The best example is my reaction to poverty: yes, give people a safety net, which is what welfare was intended to be, and which conservatives don't want even to discuss, but also give them the means -- the education, the skills, the motivation -- to become self-reliant, which the liberal solution didn't address.

That's why I think any sane politician, of which there are vanishingly fiew, has to be half-and-half. It's called "pragmatism."

Stray thought: I'd like to get Grover Norquist small enough to fit in a bathtub.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Race, Class, and the Ick Factor

Dave Neiwert has a good post on some -- well, one of the factors in race issues in the US: class. He builds off this post from Pam Spaulding, particularly Pam's response to a comment by Dagon:

What the driver (and Chris Rock) are conveying are class distinctions. Not all black folks are poor, under-educated criminals. Now the above comments by Rock and the bus driver conveniently skirt the issue of the underclass and the cycle of poverty that foments the pathologies of gang culture, disdain for educational achievement and other negative stereotypes that are a reality in those segments of the minority community. But Chris Rock speaks for a number of blacks who shake their heads every time they see a thug perp walk that inevitably will be seen by whites as representative of all black people.

This is actually something that I resolved for myself quite some time ago: Since I left home to go to university, I've associated with a broad range of people from different races and different ethnic backgrounds: Blacks, Latinos, first-generation Lithuanian immigrants, Asians, American Indians, Chicago's own brand of white ethnics. The key factor in -- I won't say whether we can get along, but whether we can understand each other at all has been class. I don't really understand poor whites any better than I understand poor blacks. I was raised as a middle-class white boy, but it's the middle-class part that stuck most firmly.

Neiwert sums it up pretty nicely:

And that really is the problem, isn't it: That whites will take a narrow spectrum of behaviors by black people and assume that they come to reflect the entire black community -- and black people hate that shit. As well they should.

To come at it from a slightly different direction, let's talk about "the hommaseksual lifestyle." This is simply another case of someone taking a few members of the class -- twinky gay party queens who are all hormones and no brains -- and using them to denote all gay men, when of course they are no more representative of gay men than Mark Foley or Ted Haggard are (without getting into nuances of terminology -- Foley identifies himself as gay; Haggard does not -- at least not yet -- and there is a certain validity to Haggard's take: "gay"is as much an identity as part of a community as a synonym for a particular sexual orientation -- more so, actually -- so Haggard, until he identifies himself with that culture, is not gay.) I can, however, identify with the party queens because we have an overriding element of our identities in common, and we share a view of the world that I don't share with straight people who may be much closer to my class, simply because the party queens and I share a culture that is much more fundamentally a part of my identity than any culture I share with my straight friends. Frankly, I find the party queens pretty boring, I'm sure as much as they do me, because that basic cultural identity is about all we share, but that's a key element. Perhaps that's why I get so pissed off at the Dobson Gang and their smug assertions about the "lifestyle" -- although these are people I don't generally associate with by choice, I don't blame them for giving us a bad name, unlike some of my fellows in the community: Dobson and his ilk would have invented them if they didn't already exist, and as far as I'm concerned they can live their lives as they wish. If anything, I fault the PC elements of the gay community for even acknowledging the Dobson Gang's slant. I differ here from a lot of the reaction in much of the gay community, and I would suspect that it's a strong analog to the reaction among middle-class blacks to the behavior of poor blacks, who have their own subculture that is sharply at odds with mainstream culture.

I live near Chicago's Uptown, which has been for years, if not generations, a chancy part of town (not so much now as in the past, but I remember when it was really scary). There are lots of poor people, many of them from the South. There are people on the streets who should be in institutions, except the institutions can't afford to keep them all any more; there are drugs, and drug dealers, and a fair amount of crime. And I've noticed that there is a less racial animosity on the street than elsewhere in the city (not that there is overt hostility most places, but Uptown seems to have less tension and a lot more interracial couples).

What I'm wandering around is simply that, while I'm sure there are people who consider skin color as a reason for discrimination (even if not consciously), I suspect very strongly that it's much more a matter of class than race.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Another Edition

of What Digby Said. With some reservations:

The events surrounding the videos of Reverent Jeremiah Wright's controversial sermons over the past week or so bear that out, don't you think? It would be pretty to think that the culture war and symbolic boomer battles stuff is all old news, but it clearly isn't. We have made great strides since the 60s and continue to, but these are hard intractable differences that have to be faced and dealt with at each stage of improvement. This was why I took issue with Senator Obama using the myths created by the Republicans about the 60's. I knew that his statement that the country had "moved on" from all those contentious issues would be unsustainable over the course of the campaign and saw little point in pretending otherwise since it was going to be used against us anyway.

From the pragmatist, "what works" side of the argument, there's nothing exceptional here, but I do take exception on the subtext. Obama is, as far as I can see, subverting the myths that Digby refers to, and subverting the entire frame the right has built around the election. To my mind, one of the man's great strengths is that he can see the framing the right has imposed on discourse and go beyond it, turning it back on itself. We need the myths, but we don't have to honor the right's construction of them. In fact, to do so, which has become the standard operating procedure in contemporary politics, is as destructive as the right's policies themselves.

Obama is probably the first Democrat in a generation -- or longer -- who can not only see the flaws in the right's take on the discourse, but who also has a platform to challenge it, which he has done with intelligence and subtlety, simply by ignoring it.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Against Theocracy

It's hard for me to get a handle on where to go with something like this. As those of you who visit here regularly know, I am a vocal proponent of the First Amendment, particularly the Establishment Clause. I am also a noisy advocate for equal rights for gays and lesbians (for everyone, actually), and reject completely the idea that Christian morality should have a place on the law books. I am a firm believer in teaching science in science classes and leaving religious instruction to parents and churches. We live in a secular state, and I'd just as soon keep it that way.

Perhaps the most significant thing that strikes me is the blindness of the Christian right to that. Take Sally Kern: it never seems to have occurred to her that the state must stand aside from religious considerations in debates of public policy and that her personal religious beliefs are not appropriate as the basis for those policies. (We could generate a list with no trouble -- Kern, Peter Pace, Mike Huckabee (not so much -- he does, at least, recognize that a boundary exists), Jesse Helms, just about any Republican senator or congressperson (those who actually have beliefs).) I suspect that Kern is more honest that most Christianist propagandists, if no more well-informed. (And see more on that below.) That is the penalty for exalting faith over reason, belief over evidence.

Just to refresh my memory, I searched through this blog for prior comments on theocrats. Follow the link to see what I've said on that topic in the past, including my contribution to last year's Blog Against Theocracy.

In the area of personal morality, or morality in general, the list is even more exhaustive.

I can't let go of the idea that the worst enemy we have right now is the Christianist theocrats. What strikes me most about the likes of James Dobson, Tim and Donald Wildmon, Lou Sheldon, Peter LaBarbera, Tony Perkins, Matt Barber and their ilk is their fundmental dishonesty. They are, at their most virtuous, mendacious. I can't, at this point, believe that they are truly ignorant: their misstatements and misrepresentations have been pointed out to them too often and too publicly, and those corrections too blatantly ignored, for that to be the case. The only reasonable conclusion, as far as I can see, is that their purpose is not religious but political: they are after power, and are using the religious beliefs of others to reach that goal.

I'm told in some quarters that we must understand their worldview if we wish to be able to engage in meaningful dialogue. Dialogue with people who refuse to hear what you're saying? Whose only response is to shout louder? People who know the facts and make up lies in their place? People who refuse to grant that your position has any validity because it does not fall in line with their beliefs? What kind of dialogue is possible with people who quite openly do not believe in compromise?

The irony here is that, while they are decrying the Islamism of the radical elements in the Middle East, they simply can't see -- or refuse to acknowledge -- the parallels there with their own mode of thought. Those who the Christianists see as our worse (foreign) enemy are those whose mindset most closely resembles their own.

The core issue, it seems to me, and the reason that I am adamant that American Christianists, our own would-be theocrats, are fundamentally anti-American, is simply that the basis of their philosophy (if I can call it that) is reliance on unquestioned authority: "God did it" is pretty much unanswerable, and serves as the only necessary reason for anything. The basis of American society, in our founding documents and the whole cast of our culture, is that authority not only can be questioned, it must be questioned. The United States is a child of the Enlightenment, in spite of the revisionist history you hear coming from such as John Hagee and Roy Moore: this country was not founded on Christian principles, and quite explicitly rejected Jesus Christ as our tutelary spirit:

When the Virginia bill for establishing religious freedom was finally passed, a singular proposition proved that its protection of opinion was meant to be universal.

Where the preamble declares that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed, by inserting the word "Jesus Christ," so that it should read "a departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion."

"The insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend within the mantle of its protection the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo and infidel of every denomination."

-- Thomas Jefferson, Autobiography, 1821.

I am appalled at the extent to which the Christianist framing of debate has filtered into our public discourse. The best example I can think of is the idea that civil unions and domestic partnerships for same-sex couples are OK, and we should just leave the word "marriage" to the churches because of its religious connotations. As I have pointed out before, "marriage" has never been a religious term; the religious term for marriage is "matrimony." Let them have that one, and let's keep marriage in the sphere of civil law, where it belongs and has always resided. On that issue, must I point out again that it took the Christian church roughly a thousand years to decide that marriage was indeed worthy of recognition? I jiust did a little checking, including a look at Catholic Pages, about the history of the sacrament of marriage, which does not mention the establishment of marriage as a sacrament. I did, however, find this, in a letter from Stephen Strosser, Professor of History at Boston College, to Massachusetts state senator Marian Walsh:

In the twelfth century, the idea of marriage as a "sacrament" - i.e., as something fundamentally regulated by the Church - was established along with priestly celibacy and primogeniture. The simultaneous appearance of these practices shows the way in which the preservation of property suddenly became an issue of great anxiety: celibacy prevented church property from passing on to priests' wives and children; primogeniture insured that property remain intact as it passed on to only the eldest son; and Church surveillance of marriages made sure that an authority larger than, say, the most powerful warrior / aristocratic families on the block, was overseeing the passing on of dowries - e.g., Eleanor's region of the Aquitaine. Women became the means of medieval corporate mergers: families consolidated power and property, both by means of dowries as well as by being the producers of male heirs.

However, let's not get sidetracked on the marriage question, although it is one of the major areas in which entrenched religious attitudes have a stranglehold on civil law. What is noteworthy in that context, however, is how the discourse on that issue throws into relief all the faults of the Christianists I have mentioned above: their dishonesty, lust for power, intolerance, and reliance on authority.

Oh, and I can't remember who came up with this as a rejoinder to Sally Kern's baseless assertion that societies that have embraced homosexuality have rapidly disintegrated, but let's look at one of those societies: the Roman Empire, which was moderately tolerant of homosexuality throughout its history, collapsed shortly after it adopted Christianity as the state religion (CE 305; the official "fall of Rome" is usually dated around CE 409-410, when the Visigoths set up their own kingdom in Italy, although the collapse actually started with the civil war between Constantine's sons beginning in 337. The Byzantine Empire staggered on in truncated form until 1453. The Christianists, of course, following their usual form of argument, would maintain that the Roman Empire lasted for another 1200 years.).

'Nuff said?

My contribution to The Blogswarm Against Theocracy.

The "Coffee Shop"

I don't like Starbucks. The coffee is lousy, the atmosphere is, as we used to say in the 70s, plastic, and the baristas, while they may be perfectly normal people off-duty, come across as little robots. And the whole tone is smarmy politically correct. It's not about service or quality -- it's about marketing. I used to hang out in a real coffee shop, which was as much a social club as a place to get coffee. Sadly, it succumbed to the economic pressures of the times.

I might have known Starbucks were fundamentally sleazy. (Sorry, don't mean to make a class-action slur here, but have you noticed that there's something fairly unwholesome about the contemporary corporate manager type -- not the real managers, but the ones who have the stockpile of "management" jargon, the ones who really buy into the whole shtick. (One of my favorites coming out of my own milieu recently is "lifetstyle relevance." That one even has the distinction of possibly meaning something.)

Superior Court judge on Thursday ordered Starbucks Corp. to pay its California baristas more than $100 million in back tips and interest that the coffee chain paid to shift supervisors.

San Diego Superior Court Judge Patricia Cowett also issued an injunction that prevents Starbucks' shift supervisors from sharing in future tips, saying state law prohibits managers and supervisors from sharing in employee gratuities. . . .

The lawsuit was filed in October 2004 by Jou Chou, a former Starbucks barista in La Jolla, who complained shift supervisors were sharing in employee tips.

Tell me Starbucks' lawyers didn't know the law.

I'm actually thinking of filing a complaint against Starbucks here because of Chicago's non-smoking laws, which stipulate that you can't smoke within fifteen feet of the entrance of a public building. Starbucks now has signs that you can't smoke within fifteen feet of their outdoor seating areas, which are sections of public walk they use under license from the city. I think they're overreaching a little.


It just gets uglier. From the Miami Herald, this choice bit of information, via dday at Hullabaloo:

Almost four months before Gov. Eliot Spitzer resigned in a sex scandal, a lawyer for Republican political operative Roger Stone sent a letter to the FBI alleging that Spitzer ''used the services of high-priced call girls'' while in Florida.

The letter, dated Nov. 19, said Miami Beach resident Stone learned the information from ''a social contact in an adult-themed club.'' It offered one potentially identifying detail: The man in question hadn't taken off his calf-length black socks ``during the sex act.''

Stone, known for shutting down the 2000 presidential election recount effort in Miami-Dade County, is a longtime Spitzer nemesis whose political experience ranges from the Nixon White House to Al Sharpton's presidential campaign. His lawyer wrote the letter containing the call-girl allegations after FBI agents had asked to speak to Stone, though he says the FBI did not specify why he was contacted.

In case you've forgotten who Roger Stone is, he is probably the most vicious political hit-man ever. He seems to have a particularly hard woody for Eliot Spitzer. I wonder who his handler in the administration is?

It's a symptom of the damage that the Bush administration has done to this country that the first reaction to something like the Spitzer mess is "politics." It's even worse because it starts to look more and more like it's generally true.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Anniversary Present

From John Cole:

I see that Andrew Sullivan was asked to list what he got wrong about Iraq for the five year anniversary of the invasion, and since I was as big a war booster as anyone, I thought I would list what I got wrong:


And I don’t say that to provide people with an easy way to beat up on me, but I do sort of have to face facts. I was wrong about everything. . . .

I mean, I could go down the list and continue on, but you get the point. I was wrong about EVERY. GOD. DAMNED. THING. It is amazing I could tie my shoes in 2001-2004. If you took all the wrongness I generated, put it together and compacted it and processed it, there would be enough concentrated stupid to fuel three hundred years of Weekly Standard journals.

Interesting that we don't see more posts like this. (snicker)

View from the Heights

I'm sorry, but I just have to laugh: here are two of the pundit class telling us, once again, what it's like in middle America. Andrew Sullivan quoting Peggy Noonan:

Near the end of the speech, Mr. Obama painted an America that didn't summon thoughts of Faulkner but of William Blake. The bankruptcies, the dark satanic mills, the job loss and corporate corruptions. There is of course some truth in his portrait, but why do appeals to the Democratic base have to be so unrelievedly, so unrealistically, bleak?

This connected in my mind to the persistent feeling one has -- the fear one has, actually -- that the Obamas, he and she, may not actually know all that much about America. They are bright, accomplished, decent, they know all about the yuppie experience, the buppie experience, Ivy League ways, networking. But they bring along with all this -- perhaps defensively, to keep their ideological views from being refuted by the evidence of their own lives, or so as not to be embarrassed about how nice fame, success, and power are -- habitual reversions to how tough it is to be in America, and to be black in America, and how everyone since the Reagan days has been dying of nothing to eat, and of exploding untreated diseases. America is always coming to them on crutches.

But most people didn't experience the past 25 years that way. Because it wasn't that way. Do the Obamas know it?

Sullivan elaborates:

The most tired element, and the least refreshing aspect, of his message so far is a resort to left bromides about the grim facts of American life in the last twenty years or so. There are problems, real problems. Inequality, fostered by globalization, has left many Americans treading water at best. But the vitality of the economy, the astonishing creativity of American industry, especially in tech and pharmaceuticals, the miracle of the Internet, the relative cheapness of items like food and clothing that once consumed far more of the average American's expenses - these are also integral to the picture.

I wish my America had been like that for the last 25 years, except that's something of a straw man. It's the past seven to ten years, since "conservative" policies have dominated the country, that things have gone down the toilet.

Has Sullivan noticed how all the big pharmaceuticals companies are multinational? Not to mention the de facto subsidies they're getting from the Bush administration. Or the fact that the Fed is pumping money into Wall Street to keep the whole thing from coming apart. Has he noticed how tech jobs are stampeding out of this country? Has he noticed that we don't create jobs here any more? Has he been in a grocery store lately? I can no longer afford items that used to be a regular part of my larder.

To be fair, there have always been blips in the historical process. There's no telling whether the Bush paradigm will continue -- it certainly will if McCain is elected president, but even if Obama wins, the repairs that need to be made are massive. Sullivan in particular is fond of quoting academic conservatives, but I wonder, seriously, whether he has any real historical awareness. (Noonan seems to have little awareness of anything.) And I'm not really going to credit feel-good bullshit from someone who manages to maintain two homes when I can barely maintain one.

I love it when people who have it made tell me what life is like.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Friday Gay Blogging

Civil Unions

A "state of the art" article from NYT on civil unions:

Massachusetts is the only state that allows same-sex couples to marry, and Vermont, New Hampshire and New Jersey have civil unions, while California and Oregon have domestic partnerships that provide similar benefits to civil unions.

Though such arrangements were created, often under court mandate, with a promise of treating same-sex couples the same as opposite-sex couples, many gays and lesbians say they have not delivered and can never do so because separate institutions are inherently unequal. Many also resent being denied use of the word marriage, which they say carries intangible benefits, prestige and status.

I believe it's Brown v. Board of Education that ruled that separate institutions are inherently unequal, and I can't believe anyone seriously considered that civil unions or domestic partnerships are true equivalents to marriage.

Melissa McEwen has some observations that pretty much parallel my own thoughts:

First, there was the description of civil unions as a "political compromise that several states have made in recent years to grant rights to gay and lesbian couples while preserving the traditional definition of marriage as between a man and woman." With each passing year, the conspicuity of the undeserved privilege being protected to mollycoddle the delicate sensibilities of straight wankers becomes ever more pathetically hilarious. Within the next few years, only among the most reluctantly egalitarian sorts will there still be arguments mounted against same-sex marriage, invoking gods by various names (Jesus, Mohammed, Tradition) as thin veneers to lay atop the desperate insecurity about their super-special relationships losing the shimmering, golden glow that only denying equality to same-sex couples conveys upon their gloriously gilded unions.

I probably wouldn't be as snarky about it (well, maybe not), but the substance is there. If you've been following the Focus on the Family "anthropoligists agree about traditional marriage" flap over at Box Turtle Bulletin that I discussesd a couple of weeks ago, it's easy to see how desperate the anti-gay forces are. And how easily they are shot down -- all it takes is a small dose of fact. (It's also instructive that they seem to have given up on the "tradition, god's plan, natural law" arguments in favor of "scientists agree with us." Tell you anything?

Scott Lemieux also had some cogent observations:

Yesterday's Times article about the inequities of civil unions is indeed important reading. In many contexts, obtaining civil unions is an improvement on the status quo, but it's also important that civil unions haven't produced marriage-in-all-but-name but in practice seem to fall short of equality. For state courts considering the question, such inequities seem relevant to whether civil unions (as opposed to equal marriage rights) can be consistent with the equal protection of the laws, especially since the legislative entrenchment of gay marriage in Massachusetts makes assumptions that civil unions will provoke much less backlash than actual equality quite questionable.

I think the "backlash"contingent is overstating their case -- as I've mentioned before, the day of the backlash is pretty much over, and I think Lemieux has the right take on it.

Uh -- We Knew That

Via Andrew Sullivan:

Shihe Fu estimates that a rise of one percentage point in the proportion of same-sex couples living in an area raises median house prices by 9 per cent even 10 years later, controlling for some obvious other things.

This suggests that gays improve neighborhoods; they don't just choose to live in nicer places.


I try to avoid wing-nuts in Fridy Gay Blogging -- we have better news to pay attention to -- but this post made me think about the way things are framed on the right. Quoting Randy Thomas of Exodus:

“They are starting to have the integrity of reporting accurately about the condition of homosexuality,” said Randy Thomas, executive vice president of Exodus International. “We find this to be a very exciting move and hope that it indicates future movement toward recognizing that people can and do overcome homosexuality.”

First of all, the scientific community has always reported as accurately as it could about the origins of homosexuality. This answer is no different than the previous answers: We don't know for sure. The only ones who have a "definitive" answer are, of course, the anti-gay crowd. (Which happens to be an answer they made up from whole cloth -- not even Jehovah has said anything about the origins of homosexuality.)

Second, why should anyone want to overcome a basic part of their personality, absent the hatred being directed at them by people such as Randy Thomas?

Good As You gets it.

There may be more -- I'm rushing to get out to work this morning.

Oh, and happy First Day of Spring: the weather forecast for Chicago says chance of snow, 100%.

Note: I decided to liven up the Friday Gay Blogging posts with an image or two. Let me know what you think.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

OK -- Last Post on Obama/Wright

I promise. Unless something really earth-shattering comes up.

I realize I've been spending a lot of time and words on what I consider a "non-story," but the thing does have resonances. And, in my own defense, please consider that I'm not actually commenting on Wright and Obama, but on the reaction to Wright and Obama. Please note the reference to "meta-blogging" in the subtitle of this site.

The mantra on the right is that Wright's comments and his association with Wright are going to hurt Obama among middle-Americans. And a lot of commentators are buying into the assumption that Americans don't have the patience or the abiity to assimilate a reasoned, nuanced discussion of any issue, particularly race. I'm not so sure. I realize it's anecdotal, but I bet scenes like this are happening a lot. The diarist's conclusions are what gives me hope:

I decided today that there are a lot of good people in the world. I decided that after all the slogans, after all the bumper stickers, and after all the excruciating hours of listening to Bill O'Reilly divide us, most folks don't hate most other folks. And when someone stands up, and explains the situation clearly, concisely, and directly, they can see that, yeah, we have issues to work through and that, yeah, we need to do something.

Today's speech wasn't about right or left, black or white, man or woman. Today Barack Obama gave a speech about basic human dignity, dignity that all of us deserve. And my brothers and sisters from OTP, many of them folks I would've considered culturally very, very different from me just yesterday, watched, listened, and saw with their hearts and minds what Barack Obama was saying. . . .

UPDATE II - A couple of folks have pointed out that Cobb County is not nearly as homogeneous as I described, and I'm going to expand on one of my responses here a bit. The Atlanta suburbs have a reputation of being lily white after the "white flight" from the city over the last few decades. But the suburbs are changing. They're becoming more diverse both racially, culturally, and otherwise. I didn't make this point explicitly, but it's a component of the story: Obama's speech and the effect that it had on folks was a challenge to me to examine my own assumptions about the people in my larger community.

That last sentence contains a key word: "challenge." Americans like challenges, at least insofar as they are part of our national mythology. That's what Americans do: we meet challenges. And Obama has handed us a real one. Contrast that with what's been handed us by the Bushites for the past seven years: a war that demands no sacrifices from the country as a whole, an economy that is doing wonders for the investor class (at least until the last couple of months), a government that keeps sending out press releases and statements that have nothing to do with the realities that most Americans are facing ("Everything's just fine.").

As a counter to this, see this post by BooMan. Aside from the fact that I think it is based on some false premises, I'm also much more of an optimist about people than BooMan seems to be. One glaring misstep (and an indication of how the bobbleheads like to define the issues according to their own priorities) is this quote from Michael Crowley, which BooMan calls "wise":

But the question is whether working class voters in Ohio and Pennsylvania and West Virginia and elsewhere believe, particularly in a stalled economy, that racially perfecting the union really ought to be a central goal of the next president. I would like to believe so. I'm not convinced they do.

Excuse me -- who said that race relations were going to be one of Obama's central goals. This is an issue that's been pushed on him, and I think he's addressed it the best way anyone could. It's this habit of taking a facet of the process and making it the whole process that is one of the worst faults of the media and the punditocracy. And, if you'll excuse my French, it's just another bucket of bullshit. As we see from the post by socratic linked immediately above, people are listening -- and thinking.

Kevin Drum has compiled snippets of the reaction from The Corner, which I have habitually called "The Circle Jerk in the Corner," for reasons you can see if you read that post. One of Drum's commenters makes what I think is a key observation:

Whether Barack likes it or not he has created the perfect setup for the election: Is America ready for an honest, reasonable, leader who will speak to us like adults? We know the far right fades out when the discourse rises above junior high school level, but what about the other 75% of America? Are there enough Americans out there who will give him a chance and not take the low road? That's what it's about in 2008....

Lest I start sounding like a broken record (and how's that for a simile that shows my age?), let me point out once again: the reaction from The Corner, as well as reactions related by this reader at Daily Dish, demonstrates the poverty of the right's arsenal: they simply have no counter-argument. They have no interest in uniting the country -- division has worked too well for them over the past three decades -- but they have no vision to offer that is going to capture the hearts and minds of the majority. They've managed so far by lying through their teeth, and now the lies are coming home to roost. All they can do is fall back on their time-worn tactic of pointing their fingers and laughing. . And y'know what? It doesn't work any more. (For a clear explication of the right's mindset, see this post by Barbara O'Brien. It's all politics -- that's how truncated their vision has become. That's all they know any more. It's still all about motivating the base, with an angry black man in place of teh gays. )

(A note on Drum's post, tangentially, at least: It occurs to me that if Barack Obama had been an African-American, which is to say a black man who had grown up within the black community in this country, he could not possibly make a serious run for the presidency, because he would indeed be carrying all the baggage that the right is trying to saddle him with. The fact is that he's not -- he is uniquely positioned as a man of color who can bridge all those gaps, and probably the only person in America who could deliver the speech he delivered with any credibility. He is the only possible bridge between Jeremiah Wright and white America.)

Just to remind us that there are some honest conservatives out there, read these comments from Mike Huckabee. My respect for the man just went up a couple of notches, even though I still don't like what he stands for.


It's not just the rabid right that's turning a deaf ear, but the rabid left as well. Get this appalling screed from Rev. Irene Monroe at Bilerico Project. Time to play the victim card. To say that one's preconceptions can blind one to reality is understating the case, to put it as mildly as possible.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Third World

The Republican oligarchy has done its best to turn the US into a third-world country not only socially but economically as well. I noted a couple of days ago the impact the Bush administration and its policies have had on the economy. There's more evidence of the sad truth in this story from NYT:

Fierce competition from new providers has pushed the level of broadband subscriptions in eight European countries above the levels in the United States and Japan, according to figures to be released Wednesday.

Growth could accelerate further if the European Commission succeeds in a drive to jolt those countries still dominated by former state monopolies, according to the top telecommunications regulator in Brussels.

The commission says the European Union added 19 million broadband lines in 2007, the equivalent of more than 50,000 households per day.

“We have four countries that are world leaders — Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands and Finland,” said Viviane Reding, the European telecommunications commissioner. “We have eight countries which have higher penetration rates than the U.S. and Japan. We are not doing badly at all.”

Did you notice -- the European regulatory agencies are pushing for competition. Meanwhile, our own FCC wants to give all of our media outlets to Rupert Murdoch, while Congress wants to give the Internet to Verizon and AT&T.

And nobody wants to be holding dollars, once the prize currency of the world.

The state of the American economy may not matter as much to corporations as we might think. Most of the biggest are multinationals, and as long as the European and Japanese economies can hold their own, they're not gong to be hurting.

Welcome to the plutocracy.

Obama's Speech

Yes, the one about Wright, Race, and America. Needless to say, it's all over the place, most of the commentary being thoroughly predictable -- ridicule from the rabid right (who have no interest in unifying the country -- division has worked too well for them) and worship from the left. Dday at Hullaballoo starts off his post with something unexpected, but very welcome:

I want to discuss Barack Obama's speech on race and politics, but first I want to say that I have a problem with these expected blog posts on expected speeches that the dynamics of 21st-century campaigns demand. This election has turned into some kind of bizarre series of rituals, like an season of Greek theater where everybody knows the plot and the audience is left to judge the work on the presentation. The parade of comment, counter-comment, conference call about comment, distancing from comment, and major speech incorporating remarks about comment is the real distraction in this campaign, diverting from a looming economic recession (a recession at BEST) and a tragic stalemate in Iraq. Rarely does anything good for the country come out of this exchange.

Furthermore, I'm sick and tired of this "action figure" conservatism where a bunch of stay-at-home bloggers decide for others what they should do in particular situations. "If I were Obama, I would have stood up during the sermon and fired a poison dart at Rev. Wright and talked about the need to cut the capital gains tax!" The imagined fantasies of these clowns resemble a Chuck Norris movie, when the realities involve far more [than ] Cheetos and nasal spray.

Over at EA Forums, I've been maintaining pretty much the same stance: this is a distraction from the issues, it was meant to be a distraction from the issues because the right has nowhere to go on the issues: they're all invested in Bush's third term and the American people most definitely do not want an instant replay. That much is clear, even to them. The right's only option is to try to take down the front-runner with irrelevancies.

Andrew Sullivan reports a series of posts that illustrate my point -- even the positive ones. From Ross Douthat:

Can you think of a better speech on race in America delivered recently by any politician, black or white? Of course John Derbyshire is right that Obama’s vision of how America ought to transcend our racial divisions is essentially left-wing, with whites and blacks joining hands to raise taxes and government spending, while uniting against their common enemy, the wicked axis of corporations, lobbyists and special interests. But Obama’s candidacy is essentially left-wing; he’s attempting to be a liberal Reagan, not a difference-splitter like Bill Clinton, and I think our political moment is tilting sufficiently leftward that he might just succeed. Certainly, I would have liked to see him talk more than he did about what America has achieved over the past thirty years, rather than pivoting so quickly to how much remains to be done. This speech of all speeches could have done with a little more pure “God bless America” chest-thumping, and a little less of what Andrew Ferguson has memorably described as the Obama style of “optimistic despair," in which "America is a fetid sewer whose most glorious days lie just ahead, thanks to the endless ranks of pathetic losers who make it a beacon of hope to all mankind." But this is a conservative's quibble about a liberal politician's address; it's my way of saying "I wish Barack Obama were a little less left-wing," and it doesn't detract from the speech's overall impressiveness.

First of all, when has John Derbyshire been right about anything? And of course, Douthat goes right into the evils of leftism. The problem with Douthat's position is that the right has no vision of how to transcend our racial divisions -- they're investing a lot of energy into maintaining and deepening them: the only area in which they want to be inclusive. The logical disjunct that follows is glaring and shows the poverty of the right's resources: transcending our differences somehow immediately equates to raising taxes and government spending. Excuse me -- have you looked at government spending over the past seven years? And the size of the deficit? How do you expect to fix that -- by throwing more money at the largest corporations?

Douthat's pretending to be positive about Obama's speech, but coming from the direction of focusing on what he didn't say. Talk about left-handed compliments.

And then he goes on to piss and moan because Obama didn't throw Wright under the bus:

I do think the problem Jeremiah Wright creates for Obama's campaign remains unresolved, to some extent, since there was nothing Obama could say in a single speech that would undo the perception created by his long affiliation with Wright and his church - the perception that he’s only confronting what’s wrong with Wright’s style of black politics because the media narrative is forcing him too, and that when the spotlight isn’t on him, he’s more interested in fitting in and feeling comfortable than in, well, speaking truth to power.

Douthat is obviously clueless about the dynamics here. To see how far off-base he is, look at this essay from John McWhorter:

He pegged Wright's recreational alienation as wrong, as stereotyping, as a "profound mistake," as founded upon a canard that America has made no progress on race.

It must be understood what a maverick statement this is from a 40-something black politician. In the black community one does not sass one's elders. One is expected to show a particular deference, understandably, to the generation who fought on the barricades of the Civil Rights movement. That is, to people of Jeremiah Wright's vintage.

Nor does one break step with the community, which Obama has done repeatedly, on gay issues, on Louis Farrakhan, on Donnie McClurkin, and now on this.

(It occurs to me that, as much noise as John McCain makes about being independent -- "The Maverick" -- he's merely another corporatist, neocon clone at this point. The real independent one is Obama.)

On the preacher, and what's involved in preaching, see Pastor Dan here and here (the latter contains the full text of Obama's speech, in case you haven't seen it).

The best capsule analysis I've seen is from D at L,G&M:

What a colossal failure. I just don't think there's any way for Obama to recover from the fact that Victor Davis Hanson, Paul Mirengoff, Michelle Malkin, Kathryn Lopez, John Derbyshire, some dude living in his mother's basement, and Atlas Shrugs remain unpersuaded of Obama's worthiness to lead America.

I can't really add to that.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

An Antidote to the News

Read this post by Chris Clarke.

We all need a bit of mystery in our lives, even mystery that we can almost explain.

If you can't go out running in the moonlight, sit down with a good volume of poetry, or listen to some music that haunts you. Or just look at the cat and wonder.